Only Doing Our Job…

Only Doing Our job . . .

During one of the confrontations between University students and the riot police in the early 1990s, after the cops had spent a day beating and chasing students around the UZ campus and firing tear-gas into confined spaces, there was a quiet period in which a police land-rover came up, loaded with oranges.

The policemen started enjoying the oranges, then they noticed some students nearby, trying not to be observed. They invited them to share the oranges. The closing scene was a pleasant one, with these two groups of young men sharing the same supply of oranges.
So far, that sounds good. But then the police said Don’t blame us for what happened earlier. We were only doing our job’. Aren’t we all responsible for our own actions?
I was only following orders’ was a defence that many Nazi war criminals made at the Nuernberg trials after the end of the Second World War. It was rightly rejected. If anyone orders you to beat people up or torture them, that person is wrong and should be disobeyed. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a sergeant, colonel, Police Commissioner or the President himself. He is wrong, and should not be obeyed. It doesn’t matter if bishops, or the Pope himself, support him. The order is still wrong and should be disobeyed.
Don’t accept any authority that goes against your conscience, and don’t expect anyone to make a decision for you that you must make in your own conscience.  Churchmen can be wrong too. An Austrian peasant called Franz Jaegerstatter discovered that during the Second World War. He received conscription papers and refused to serve as a soldier in Hitler’s wars.
His parish priest and even the bishop told him it was his duty to obey government authorities, like so many other good christians did. Jaegerstatter refused. He was tried and condemned to death by a military tribunal. Many church people tried to persuade him to change his mind and ask for pardon. He refused and was beheaded.
Last year, Pope Benedict named Franz Jaegerstatter Blessed’, a step towards sainthood, admitting that Jaegerstatter had been right. That was a bit late to do Jaegerstatter any good, but many people have been encouraged to treasure their freedom because people like him were ready to die for it.
We need to encourage our police and armed forces to do as Jaegerstatter did, even if it costs them their lives, so that we and those who come after us can enjoy freedom. Would people be tortured or arrested without warrant or would elections be rigged if the ordinary police and soldiers refused to obey when they were told to do the dirty work?


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